Spherication… a load of balls?

This time last week, I was basking in northern pride as the participants in the Great British Menu North West heat slugged it out. Despite a walkout, the standard was still phenomenal and Simon Rogan fought off his adversary with a menu of balance, finesse and imagination.  Much like the ensuing beer choices I hear you say. 

The turn, this week, of our London and South East entrants – the region containing the majority of our population and in London, one of the gastronomic capitals of the World. The standard, in previous years was bound to be high.  But in the end it begged to differ and was something of a disappointment.

The three chefs were all Michelin Star vajewelled – Phil Howard of the Square Restaurant in Mayfair has held two Michelin Stars for almost 15 years; Marcus McGuinness, a young upstart (relatively speaking) from Hibiscus has a one, and another down the side of his sofa, and finally ex rock band drummer Graham Garrett, from the West House in Biddenden, Kent also keeps one in the barn out of the back of his Gastropub.

The issues started with the elimination of Graham Garrett.  Along with all the chefs, he made small mistakes, but his food, more than all the others spoke from the heart, showed his personality, and on the basis of his main course and dessert alone, should have seen him through.  But celebrity chef judge Jason Atherton did not agree and was wowed by McGuinness’ use of olives & asparagus in his dessert course.  Marcus is another molecular gastronomy advocate – using scientific techniques to create unusual and counter-intuitive textures and tastes. But it was all rather a triumph of style over taste with yet more spherications doing the rounds, so to speak, meaning that Phil Howard unsurprisingly romped home with his classical menu.   Let’s get into it:

For starter, Phil served a spring salad with goats’ milk puree, pickled asparagus and quails’ eggs. For me, the Goats’ milk will be the challenge – the rich, farmyard earthiness and hay aroma can be quite powerful; yet the asparagus is a dream pairing with beer.  I’m going to push the boat out here, and recommend something with some hop led backbone yet finesse. Anchor’s Liberty Ale should be a fine accompaniment.

Phil’s fish course was undoubtedly a cracker, in fact, I’m sure had it been required, it would have been the tiebreaker.  A simple, high quality ingredient, elevated from pedestrian to pedestial. Cornish mackerel with oysters, mussels, winkles & samphire was mackerel being treated with reverence: the beer should not let the dish down; and again, a balance between structure yet finesse is needed – to cope with the smoky mackerel, but not overpower the other ingredients. This is dark lager territory – if you can get hold of a bottle of Paulaner Dunkel it should be both a fine complement and foil to this fish.

The main was elegantly executed but rather lacking in imagination: roast loin of lamb with pie and mash, carrots, nettles and mint.  And a classic British meat and veg dish, needs a classic British ale to accompany it – so many to choose from here although in this case Hall & Woodhouse’s Tanglefoot would be a great choice; a little more alcoholic body to stand up to the mint, but more of a floral aroma and foretaste to not knock out the lamb.

Finally pud, rhubarb and custard souffle rounded the meal off.  A fine dessert; particularly putting a small base of rice pudding into the souffle was a cracking idea, but I’m not convinced that it will stand much of a chance in the finals. However, for now it deserves a beer to show it off in the best light, and it’s a tricky one – souffle being so light, yet rhubarb being slightly vinous and acidic, making for a tricky pairing. Well, even though I think a small serving of a stronger, more maderia-like beer could work here, on balance, I am going to plump for a lighter bodied beer to finish, with some crisp, hop bitterness. Something of a radical choice at this stage in the meal, but a terrific beer, Jever Pils (available through a few specialists in the UK) would complement, not get bullied and leave you wanting the cheese board!

What do you think?  Sound recommendations or a load of spherications?

© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles 2012

Great Beertish Menu: Rogan Josh!

So Simon Rogan came through in the North West heat of Great Beertish Menu. Funny old world isn’t it – he’s running a little restauant in Cartmel in Cumbria…and it just so happens to be one of the top 5 restaurants in Europe. So in fairness, he probably knows a thing or two about cooking.

As promised, here’s his winning menu and a proposed beer to go with each.  Let me know what you think and trump my recommendation please!

Starter: Grilled salad, truffle custard, cheese foam and cobnut crisp.

An interesting combination of textures here – and of course a vegetarian starter. We want something light on the palate which won’t dominate the food yet stand up to the custard.  Let’s go for a Deuchar’s IPA – I think the light body and modest hoppiness will complement well.

Fish Course: lobster with pickled beetroot & sweet apple

IMG_1015Tricky. You can easily wreck the lobster – and given the lengths he went to to reinfuse it with extra lobsteryness that would be a shame; but then there’s the pickled beetroot to consider.  This is a cracking dish to go with a beer though. I’m looking for a more malt accented beer, not too coating and with modest bitterness.  I’m actually going for a classic here. Timmy Taylor’s Landlord.

Main: suckling pig with northern mead, vegetables and artichoke

Right – lots to be getting on with. I’m thinking contrast and some body. The knotty bit is the mead I want something that will sit nicely alongside it but get noticed – bridesmaid not bride. Don’t want to upstage the meal, but I want people to fancy me. So for me, I’m going to go for a Rooster’s Wild Mule.  It’s got the sweetness and the hop attack.  Perhaps not enough alcholic body though.

Pud: poached pears, atsina cress snow; sweet cheese ice cream and rosehip syrup.

Delicate (pear) yet punchy (rosehip) – and then the sweet cheese ice cream which  could be quite mouth coating. I’m going to go left field here and actually go for Cain’s Dark Mild, but served in a wine glass to so volume doesn’t overpower the dish.


Grand. I’m off for pie and chips now.


Great Beertish Menu

Look. I admit it.  I really enjoy TV cooking programmes.  I’m sure that in my dotage I shall spend more time perfecting acts of culinary wizardry than I can afford today.  I’m not a cooking programme whore though; I do have a Premier League:  The Hairy Bikers (I know, I know); Masterchef; Rick Stein (you know, the poetry one) are 3 of my top 4.  But for me, the Champion of Champions – the Campionissimo if you will, is The Great British Menu.

I know I shouldn’t.  If I engage my rationale mind, I can see through it. The total fabrication of an excuse for a national banquet (“Let’s celebrate the work of the Great British Seaweed Farmer”).  The promotion of chefs to celebrity status even when many of them clearly either haven’t got the charisma, or in the case of the glorious Mark Hix, the desire. It was great – seemingly, he just couldn’t be bothered. Whilst his competitors slaved over their stoves, deconstructing sea bass into sea and bass, he cobbled together a pie, or jelly and blancmange and sat back, reading the paper, having a fag. (Even better that he got not one but two dishes through to that year’s grand finale.  Mind you his Stargazey Pie was inspired, and I’ve had a few good ‘uns in my time).

This time round, the feast is oddly, Olympics themed.  To compensate for all the Fast Food from America that is going to be consumed during the event, the BBC have struck out early, encouraging us to celebrate our Olympians with a gargantuan British feast in their honour.   I actually only tuned in last week (Northern Ireland), and this week it was my home region, the North West.  And it’s been sensational viewing – have you seen it?

Marcus Wareing, the celebrated 2 Star Michelin chef took apart a Preston chef, Johnnie Mountain. Johnnie’s track record on the fish course has been poor.  In two attempts, the best he has done is 4 out of 10.  This time, he pushed the boat out, submerging himself (oops, that must be ‘pushed his submarine out’ then) in the world of molecular gastronomy.  He visited the Fat Duck to get top tips, and there he is with his baths of liquid nitrogen, ice cream wafers and smoking devices making a beach…and sea.  No chunk of fish in there, but anchovies and clams and various other fruits of the ocean.  And it looked pretty. But we can only glean that it tasted pretty bad.

And Marcus was not a fan. In a 30 second, calmly delivered diatribe, he took poor Johnnie apart and gave him a 2, accusing him of ‘playing with toys’.

Johnnie, unsurprisingly, was a little peeved and stormed out, clanking pots, pans and assorted sous chefs behind him.  Cracking viewing, and all the better as it supported my hypothesis that Marcus Wareing is a plastic northerner and an all round tit, even if he can bake a good tart.  But any way, that’s not the point.

The point is this: I am looking for your help.

I’m an advocate of beer and food – cooking with beer, pairing food with different beers – you know what I mean. I haven’t quite got to BBQ’ing a chicken with a can of beer up it’s bottom, but it’s on the list of things to do this summer.   But industry efforts are all very self-serving and ponderous.

So, here’s the plan:  when the winning course is announced on a Friday, I shall post a short blog with my recommended beer accompaniment and a short rationale for said choice.

I’d love your comments, but better, try and top my recommendation (this won’t be hard, trust me).  We shall then, with the wonder of modern science and the use of a public voting system (which shall be independent, and by the time it comes round, properly thought out) sally forth with our recommendations.  A column in the Guardian will quickly follow I’m sure, and by next year, yours truly will be on The Great British Menu recommending great beers to go with the great food*

Up for it?

*Sneak preview from the BBC.  Next year there will be a Feast Celebrating Great British Muck Spreading. Sounds like sh

Johnnie Mountain

Johnnie Mountain: I’d eat in your restaurant mate. Give me Wareing’s table.

© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles. Originally posted on Posterous, June 2012